Tuesday, August 4, 2015
By Shad Begum
I am a social entrepreneur, a women rights activist, married and a mother of two amazing kids – 14 and 12 years old. My work requirements compel me to use social media such as Facebook and Twitter for promoting my work and creating a larger impact through reaching a wide audience, locally and globally.
I belong to a conservative rural area, and for many of the women of my area, it is unimaginable to disclose their pictures and identity locally, let alone to publish it on the social media.
But being a Pakhtun woman and on the social media with a real persona is not an easy task. Sometimes the behavior of some Pakhtun men becomes so undesirable that I have deactivated my account a number of times. One gentleman collected my pictures from my wall on Facebook and published it with the caption, “this is Shad Begum from Dir. These are her own published pictures on Facebook. Just decide yourself which of these pictures are according to Islam or Pashtunwali.” I had to review all posted pictures of myself, which I had taken during my work related activities.
Facebook gives you limited options to define your relationship with your contacts on Facebook. Many Pakhtuns consider acceptance of a “friend request” to be beyond an acquaintanceship. There are even “friend’s requests” by strangers but acceptance of a “friend request” does not mean anything beyond sharing of useful information on Facebook.
I feel embarrassed when men in my list send friend request to women on my list, and even more when I hear from those women friends that someone on my list has harassed them.
I know respected figures sending inappropriate messages through messenger, and I have them on record. Many Pakhtun men believe that Facebook, Twitter, or mobile phones are a good entertainment to kill time and develop friendships with women.
Forget messages through messenger. There are people who comment on my wall in a manner that put me in embarrassment before my family, some of them are also using Facebook and reading my posts and comments. None of these stranger “friends” realize that inappropriate comments on the wall of a Pakhtun woman deprives her of the space that she has been allowed in an otherwise conservative environment where women have limited mobility or interaction with our Pakhtun brothers. Thus, by their inappropriate behavior and poor manners toward women, they further deprive these women of the only space to interact with men in a healthy and positive manner and know each others’ problems.
Healthy behaviors between genders are formed through positive attitudes. We Pakhtun cannot equal other nations and communities if we do not reform our attitude towards women.
I do not want to single out Pakhtun community or their men for harassing women on social media. This might be experienced by other women too from other communities, but my work, my space, my world, and everything related to Pakhtuns; therefore, I consider it my right voice my concern on the misuse of social media by our Pakhtun brothers.
I hope that my thoughts and feelings are considered in a positive manner and with greater understanding, rather than demonizing the attitude of Pakhtun men. Please keep us, Pakhtun women, in your prayers, Pakhtun brothers and allow us to build a society based on mutual respect and tolerance, together.
 Ms. Shad Begum, belonging to Dir Lower district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a woman social entrepreneur working for the economic, political and social empowerment of women since 1994. She is the founder member and Executive Director Association for Behaviour & knowledge Transformation (ABKT), an Ashoka Fellow, and in recognition of her extraordinary work for the rights of women, she has been awarded several national and international awards, including the International Woman of Courage Award by the US State Department. She has remained a district councillor in Dir Lower during 2001-2005, after winning the election on a general seat as an independent candidate. She is on the Advisory Boards of several prestigious international women organisations and is also a member of the UN Strategic Guidance Group of the N-Peace Network, a global network of women peacemakers around the world.